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Wal-Mart brings one-stop shopping to car insurance

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 (AP)

Wal-Mart is bringing one-stop shopping to another area: auto insurance.

The world's largest retailer has teamed up with AutoInsurance.com to let shoppers quickly find and buy insurance policies online in real time to cut down costs. The service is available immediately in eight states including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma, and will be available nationwide in the next few months. Shoppers can log on to AutoInsurance.com or access the site through Wal-Mart's website at

www.Walmart.com/autoinsurance.

AutoInsurance.com, a division of Fort Lee, N.J.-based Tranzutary Insurance Solutions LLC, a licensed property and casualty insurance agency, was created after Wal-Mart realized there was an opportunity for a quicker service where shoppers can buy and save on car insurance that provides the final price— with no bait and switch tactics. Wal-Mart says car insurance is among the biggest monthly expenses for customers, and for some, it can outpace health care costs.

In a briefing with the media on Tuesday, Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Wal-Mart U.S., said the Bentonville, Ark.-based discounter will be AutoInsurance.com's exclusive retail partner and receive promotion payments in its role as marketer. AutoInsurance will earn a commission every time a policy is sold.

"Our customers too often have to settle for auto insurance policies that aren't the best fit and cost more than they want to spend," Eckert said.

The strategy marks Wal-Mart's latest flirtation with insurance marketing and also highlights how the retailer is trying to use its size to expand beyond food and other staples into a one-stop shopping destination as it seeks to bring in more shoppers to its site and its stores. Wal-Mart plans to promote the insurance shopping service in its stores.

Last month, Wal-Mart introduced a new money transfer service that it says will cut fees for its low-income customers by up to 50 percent compared with similar services elsewhere. That service is being rolled out in partnership with Ria Money Transfer, a subsidiary of Euronet Worldwide Inc.

Joshua Kazam, founder of AutoInsurance.com and the founder and chairman of Tranzutary, noted that 90 percent of people compare prices online for products and services like airline tickets, but its survey shows that only one in five comparison-shop for auto insurance because it's a complicated process.

Wal-Mart has had a relationship with Kazam, an entrepreneur, and his partners that dates back several years. For example, in 2009 Kazam and his team partnered with Wal-Mart to bring PetArmor, a generic version of a popular flea and tick preventative treatment, to Wal-Mart customers. Kazam founded Velcera, which created the PetArmor brand and was acquired last year by Perrigo. But recently, Wal-Mart has been working with Kazam in improving the experience related to insurance products.

In 2012, Wal-Mart tested a program with Tranzutary to sell prepaid MetLife insurance policies in 217 stores in Georgia and South Carolina. Then last April, it launched a test program in Pennsylvania where customers who purchased policies from AutoInsurance.com reported annual savings on their insurance of $1,168, on average. At the same time, it displayed kiosks in Illinois where shoppers could pick up a saving card that offered a discount on a new auto insurance policy sold through Esurance.

Wal-Mart decided that focusing on a price comparison service was the way to go.

It works this way: customers log on to the site and provide their name, address, date of birth and contact information. They can also have the site retrieve their current auto insurance policy, allowing AutoInsurance.com to automatically fill in the necessary coverage information for an apples-to-apples comparison. The free service offers customers multiple quotes from some of the leading national insurance carriers like Esurance, Safeco, and Progressive within minutes.

Customers can choose to either purchase the policy online immediately, speak with a licensed agent at 800-700-7500 or save the information and purchase later.